By Alan Fram
WASHINGTON: In his West Virginia district, the TV ads attacking Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall over the calamitous startup of President Barack Obama’s health-care law have already begun.
The 19-term veteran, a perennial target in a GOP-shifting state, is among many in the president’s party who have recited to constituents Obama’s assurance that they could keep insurance coverage they liked under the 2010 overhaul.
That has proven untrue for several million Americans, igniting a public uproar that has forced Obama to reverse himself on part of the law and sent many Democrats scrambling into political self-preservation mode ahead of next year’s congressional elections.
Rahall was among 39 Democrats who, despite an Obama veto threat, voted Friday for a GOP measure that would let insurers continue selling policies to individuals that fall short of the health-care law’s requirements. It was approved 261-157.
“I’m concerned about my integrity with voters who have returned me here 38 years. They know me enough to know I wouldn’t purposely mislead them,” Rahall said last week. “They have that confidence in me, and I want them to continue to have that confidence in me.”
Republicans are emboldened by Obama’s reversal and the Democrats’ scramble for cover. They are already compiling lists of dozens of Senate and House Democrats such as Rahall who, in video clips and written statements, have parroted Obama’s pledge that voters’ existing coverage would not be annulled.
“There’s nothing more damaging than when your word is devalued and people think they were misled,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm. “And especially damaging is when it actually affects you and your family. So in terms of degree of impact, this is off the Richter scale.”
Top Democrats, who need to gain 17 seats to retake the House majority, scoff that next November’s elections are far off. They say by then, the health-care law will be to their advantage because it will be working well.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said his party will focus the campaign on the economy, Democratic efforts to fix it and the GOP’s preference for cutting Medicare and granting tax breaks to the wealthy.
The Republican emphasis on the health-care law’s problems “from a partisan perspective gins up the Republican base. But it alienates independent and moderate voters,” said Israel, who said those voters “are more interested in solutions.”
Other Democrats agree that plenty can change in a year but concede that the issue poses problems.
Martin Frost, a former Texas Democratic congressman who headed the House Democratic campaign committee, said many people still may lose their coverage because state officials have ample power over insurers. And he said the Obama administration cannot allow additional foul-ups.
“If I were still in Congress, I’d be concerned,” Frost said.